Yale Athletics

The Yale volleyball team hit the road for its final nonconference tournament of the year at the Penn State Classic this weekend. Despite a hard fought loss versus the second-best team in the nation, the Bulldogs (6–3, 0–0 Ivy) swept both of their Saturday matches, solidifying their presence as a force to be reckoned with upon entering Ivy play.

The Elis took on No. 2 Penn State (10–0, 0–0 Big Ten) Friday night, facing them on their home court at Penn State’s legendary Rec Hall. The Nittany Lions took care of business against the Bulldogs, sweeping them 3–0. The following day, however, Yale asserted its own dominance, defeating Ohio (6–8, 0–0 Mid-Atlantic) and Wake Forest (8–4, 0–0 Atlantic Coast) without dropping a set. With their first Ivy match just around the corner, the Elis will look to capitalize on the experience of a tough nonconference schedule in the exciting months ahead.

“We look at preseason as a time to get ready for the conference,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “I thought we took advantage of many opportunities that were presented to us, and it’s been a very, very difficult preseason. I’m super pleased with the results that the players have had.”

In their Friday match versus Penn State, the Elis proved they could hang with collegiate volleyball’s most accomplished program. Even though the Nittany Lions made quick work of the Bulldogs in the first set, winning by a lopsided 25–9 score, Yale bounced back in the second set. Led by outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19, who notched eight kills in the second frame, the Bulldogs remained within striking distance of Penn State throughout the entirety of the set. The Blue brought the Nittany Lions down to the wire, only trailing 19–21 in the final stretch. However, Penn State proceeded to take advantage of some of Yale’s serving and attacking miscues and ultimately defeated the Bulldogs 25–21 thanks to a kill from Penn State veteran outside hitter Ali Frantti.

Although Appleman characterized the team as nervous during the first couple points, she said she was happy with how the Bulldogs settled down in the second set and remained competitive in the frame.

The battle seemed to leave the Elis without much gas in the tank, as Penn State finished up the Bulldogs in the third set by a score of 25–11. The Nittany Lions showcased the strength and experience of their veteran squad throughout the match, as seniors Simone Lee and Haleigh Washington led offensively. Washington, a middle blocker, was tremendous for Penn State, converting eight of her 11 attacking attempts for kills. Similarly, Lee, an outsider hitter who was on Penn State’s 2014 championship roster, earned a commanding 10 kills of her own for the match.

Despite the loss, the Bulldogs said they were thrilled to have the opportunity to play such a renowned and iconic program.

“The atmosphere in Rec Hall was unbelievable,” Wirth said. “The entire town was there to cheer on Penn State. There was probably more than a thousand people there all rooting against us, but we were able to use that energy and have fun with it. It really was unlike any atmosphere I have ever played in before.”

The following afternoon, the Elis faced an injury-plagued Ohio squad in their second match of the weekend. The Bulldogs outperformed the Bobcats in nearly every way throughout the match, especially by showing off the depth of their cast of attackers. Five players on Yale’s roster notched at least six kills while remaining incredibly consistent, as each of these players boasted hitting percentages upward of 0.250. Middle blocker Destiny Daniel ’21 was particularly outstanding for the Bulldogs, finishing with 10 kills and only two errors for the match, to count for a superb 0.500 hitting percentage.

Yale’s dynamic setting duo of Franny Arnautou ’20 and Kelsey Crawford ’18 were also incredibly dependable for their teammates versus Ohio, contributing 19 and 18 assists, respectively. The Bulldogs rarely trailed during the match, defeating Ohio in each set before the Bobcats ever reached 20 points. And yet even when the Bulldogs fell behind 11–13 in the second frame, things turned around quickly for the Elis, and within a matter of minutes, they were back on top 18–14. Ohio’s sophomore outside hitter Lizzie Stephens provided some offensive spark for the Bobcats, leading both teams with 11 kills, but her performance was not enough to subdue the Bulldogs’ control of play.

“We stayed focused on our game plan and chipped away point by point,” Arnautou said. “I think we did a really good job executing and staying even-keeled. Our defense was also a huge help — we got stops on some great swings and attacks by them, which is always frustrating for an opponent.”

Later that evening, the Bulldogs wrapped up their nonconference play in commanding fashion, taking down Wake Forest in straight sets. Wirth was again outstanding for Yale, notching 13 kills and assisting on three blocks to finish out a tournament performance that earned her a spot on the Penn State Classic All-Tournament Team. Middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 continued to deliver offensively for the Elis versus the Demon Deacons, tallying seven kills on just 11 attempts. Her defensive presence was reliable as well, as she assisted on five blocks over the course of the match. Her consistency throughout the weekend also earned her All-Tournament honors.

The first set between the Bulldogs and the Demon Deacons was the most competitive, as Wake Forest trailed 20–21 near the end of the frame. However, after Appleman called a timeout so that her squad could regroup and re-energize, Wirth knocked in two kills to extend the Elis’ lead, and outside hitter Gray Malias ’19 notched the game-winning point with a putaway of her own. The Bulldogs carried their momentum forward from their victorious initial frame into the final two sets, putting away Wake Forest by margins of 25–21 and 25–16.

Yale will face Brown in its first conference match at home this Friday in the John J. Lee Amphitheater. The match will begin at 7 p.m.

Ellen Margaret Andrews ellenmargaret.andrews@yale.edu